Here is a great introductory project to microcontrollers and more specifically the MSP430 by Texas Instruments. This is a fantastic way to get your feet wet in the world of microcontrollers. Its very cheap and can be reproduced for only around $25. The battery pack shown in Image 1 is unnecessary as you could power the LCD from the MSP430 development board.
Image 1: An MSP430 displays characters on an LCD screen
Here is all you will need to reproduce what you see above:
LCD - $9.95
MSP430 Launchpad (Microcontroller and development board)- $4.30
(Note: you will also need an IDE, Integrated Development Environment, to write code that will control your microcontroller. This can be found on the TI website above as well. There are two different ones you can download, either Code Composer Studio or IAR Embedded Workbench)
Breadboard Wiring Bundle - $6.00
Breadboard - $5.00
Helpful Tutorial Resource
This blog will walk you through everything you need to know about the MSP430, the IDE, and running an LCD screen. It even has code examples you can grab. There is plenty of other useful information here as well. The tutorial specifically on LCDs is #14a and can be found in the September of 2011 archive.